Apr 04

Talent Wars – The Talent Strikes Back

A few years ago I wrote a series of articles for job seekers based on The Art of War by Sun Tzu. There have been numerous analogies comparing warfare to business practices, but this week, prompted by a NY Times Op-Ed piece, my colleagues and I engaged in a dialog about whether or not the perceived “skills gap” is a reality and how the “war for talent” is progressing for the long term unemployed. I have long been of the opinion that the so-called gap in skills is based on myth rather than actual research. The resulting war for talent is often a rationalization of the reality that it is sometimes tough to find the right talent or skills for a job. Get over yourselves! It this were easy anybody could do it, so step up to the plate and be a professional. 

To job seekers, don’t even enter this debate without considering the risk of sounding like you are making excuses for your lack of accomplishment. If it isn’t a war, treat it as if it is an all or nothing battle or you will never win. The best defense is a good offense and not a pile of lame reasons why you can’t do it. Yes it’s hard to find a job. If it were easy anybody could do it, so step up to the mound and pitch your best. 

How do we tackle the problem of the long term unemployed? Discussions on this topic are often laced with politics and that only serves to polarize the issue and keep solutions from surfacing. It is not about government. It is not about business. It is not about job seekers. It is a partnership of all three looking without prejudice at alternatives and doing something.

Job seekers, prepare yourself for battle! 

 

Mar 07

How to Engage and Learn From Twitter Chats

TwitterVsTruthTrustTalentHave you ever wanted to get a glimpse at “the making of” a job search chat on Twitter? The decision that we made (a little bit me and a lot of Steve Levy and Cyndy Trivella) to move Open Mic Career Chat (#OMCchat) to Friday at Noon happened because we had good metrics on that time slot for a chat and because it seemed that the regular followers on Thursday evenings were never able to get together at the same time. Yes, we do talk and prepare for these things! Above all else, the three of us agree wholeheartedly that it should be uber-organized but not involve heavy lifting. What we do is a gift… NOT a business. We are not searching for sponsors to monetize this, but it is an obvious place to help people if it is done right. Why does this work?

In our daily lives we have the advantage of seeing those around us in 3D. When we dip into our cyber reality several of those multidimensional aspects become cloudier. Whether or not we are totally aware of this process, body language, voice intonation, and sometimes an invisible projection of intangibles contribute to our believability of the person speaking. When I tell chatters on Twitter to engage all of their crap filters it is because the message is often not what it appears to be. Most job seeker advocates are sincere in their desire to help, but as we know there is a lot of static. Among the experts there are also pretenders. Not all who profess to be experts are bona fide experts. So how can you tell if somebody is a fake or a credible source? How can we attract a wide audience when we have declared war on the traditional chat format of being overly nice to everybody?

In order to keep it on track it is necessary to know some of the danger signs and how to address them. There are not a finite number of characters, but here are leading candidates for the “Sad Seven.”

  1. Not-so-hidden Agenda – A veiled sales pitch for a service, product, or branded concept may be helpful only to the seller and not to those who are desperately seeking answers applicable to them. The author of a glitzy book title or catch phrase will seldom be objective about their advice, so expect to be called out for pandering.
  2. False Projection – Preaching that all should accept a truth supported only by anecdotal evidence or hearsay statistical references leaves obvious gaps in complete understanding. Most will back away or offer excuses when pressed for evidence of their “truth” sprayed for general consumption. I will always ask for proof.
  3. Jargonizing – Using a popular saying, statistic or cliché to make a point has its place in the discussion, but simply parroting a popular viewpoint in order to appear knowledgeable may not be appropriate. A failure to revel sources of information is a clue that the advice is not applicable. Just because somebody famous said something doesn’t make it true.
  4. Negativity – Individuals that always resort to one-upmanship to prove how miserable their lives have become refuse to give up and move on. Their input may be useful in showing that bad things do happen to good people, but basically they are toxic and don’t offer much meaningful input. I may not call you out on this one, but I may ignore you.
  5. Groupthink – This is the tendency of some people to promote harmony and minimize conflict rather than providing a realistic appraisal of the situation. This is not to say that the chat environment should not be cordial, but it is wrong to perpetuate bad advice when so many are counting on good answers. The Twitter suck-ups have a fertile ground for their drivel here.
  6. Narcissism – Probably the easiest bad advisors to detect are those who offer solutions to others in such a way that it only flatters themselves. Much can be learned from the experience of others unless their ego gets in the way of presenting a clear and accurate account. Thanks for giving us fodder for the “worst of” topics.
  7. Absolute Fakes – Finally there is advice that comes from those who are afflicted with a puzzling need to be something they are not. Offering job search advice from an HR perspective should come from someone with actual HR experience. Finding problems and then taking an opposing viewpoint gives people the ability to “fix” recruiting, culture, and just about any other need.

In spite of all the fakery and foolery, a chat session on Twitter should be the epitome of connecting through social media. As old friends are seen joining the chat there is always a virtual hug given and an acknowledgement of their presence and expertise by other chatters. This is a huge meeting in a room bigger than life where there are literally millions of global impressions in a one hour session. In spite of its flaws, it remains one of the best sources of critical information for a job seeker. Every participant has the right to speak, but this also carries a responsibility to be honest and true to the cause. Most groups will self-police and there will be little need for a moderator to step in to make a correction.

Image credits:
Scale by FSergio / 123RF Stock Photo [modified] 
Stones  by scol22 / 123RF Stock Photo [modified]

Mar 05

The Tangled Dynamics of Twitter Chat Advice

I am a regular on Twitter chat events and have been a participant, moderator and guest host on many of them. My latest endeavor is through a partnership with two scions of the Twittersphere, Cyndy Trivella (@CyndyTrivella) and Steve Levy (@LevyRecruits) in the Open Mic Career Chat (#OMCchat). Our objective in hosting this weekly chat… at Noon Eastern Time on Fridays… is to take the job search chat experience to a new level. Without presuming to speak for my colleagues, I think we have done that by challenging the status quo of ambiguous and fluffy job search advice, changing the format to one that calls for quick knee jerk opinions that can be debated online, and allowing a free flowing dialog which may at times appear to be a bit irreverent. Promoting that kind of freedom can also increase the tendency of human nature to intervene and undo all the best intentions. We sometimes forget that the online world is a mirror of the real world including the fact that there is a diverse cross section of talent, ability, honesty and integrity. Nobody should check-in to a Twitter chat session if their crap filters are not fully engaged because online is not reality. At best it is an imitation of reality, but that only becomes real by matching advice to personal need.

It is a good thing that we are only striving for a better chat because that “perfect chat” is not possible when human beings are involved. Being job seeker advocates, it is troubling that along with excellent advice from the pros, which at times may even appear conflicting, there is also occasional blatantly bad advice. Our job then is to keep the signal-to-noise ratio at a bearable level. Why does static happen?

  1. People are different – No two people have the same life experience so their perspectives will be different. Job seekers looking for a one-size-fits-all solution will almost always be disappointed. Every question will have multiple answers that must be weighed against the personal need of participants.
  2. There is not always a right or wrong answer – Sometime all paths lead to the same destination, but at the crossroads in life it can appear that everything depends on making the correct choice. The good news is that most paths also are very forgiving and allow midcourse corrections to change the way you reach your destination.
  3. Experts do not always agree – There is almost always more than one right answer. Because they all have arrived at their current station in life through different paths, their perception of next steps will differ. Listening to the experts will always be instructive if not taken out of context. Conflicting advice is not bad advice, but it does involve listening and choosing a very personal answer. 
  4. The experts are only humanThere are multiple reasons for bad advice happening. Most of it is unintentional and for the most part participants may be giving the best advice from their body of knowledge. Bias can be introduced into the conversation for several reasons, primarily because of offering generalizations from a background that is limited in scope.

These are only a few of the many facets of human nature involved, but they all have one thing in common: These are not bad people. They are only people that are compelled by their humanness to act in a manner that can lead to misleading or incorrect advice. Diversity of thought is not something that needs to be fixed, but intentionally misleading a group for personal gain is almost universally bad… and this is a topic for another time.

Image credit: Business Man on High Wire by lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Mar 03

Is There Value in Job Search Chats on Twitter?

Probably the question should be, “Is there REALLY value in job search chats on Twitter?” The knee jerk response by most casual Twitter users is a resounding “No!” For those at the other end of the spectrum there is an almost addictive property of Twitter that lures people into the false expectation that swallowing this one pill will cure all ills. The obvious truth lies somewhere between those two extremes, but the missing factor is always some unknown element that has to do with individual needs relative to an extremely dynamic medium. Therein lies the clue to reality: there is no single all encompassing answer just as there is no best way to conduct a job search. It is always, always, always personal. Advice from any perspective can be misleading if it doesn’t fit the personal need. The only universal answer to this question is that those who dismiss it with cynicism and those who religiously drink the Kool-Aid will both miss the point… and any benefit.

Maybe there could an objective approach to online conversations about a job search. Remembering that open minded listening, assessment, questioning, and decision making are personal choices, this job search tool requires detailed planning just like all the others.

  1. Objectives: Why am I doing this? – There is anecdotal evidence of people finding work through Twitter chats, but the number of actual jobs offered/accepted through this medium is miniscule compared to other sources. Ignoring this reality will lead to disappointment and disillusionment about the process. It may sound a bit selfish to go in with an attitude “What’s in it for me?” but determining that first is the best way to be able to listen to the needs of others.
  2. Data Gathering: What am I hearing? – Most Twitter chats have an agenda that is necessary to keep the flow of dialog moving during a specified time frame. Chat moderators will tell you it is a little like herding cats. Online in a finite time period defined by others is not a very good ground for sowing your own seeds of needs. Using this forum as a means to contact others fertilizes network cultivation and takes the conversation offline into a more personal and useful reference.
  3. Analysis of Data: Is the information I am receiving real? – Just as you must have an agenda for meaningful participation, everyone else in the chat has an agenda too. Some are true job seeker advocates and are giving away valuable advice for free. Others are on an ego trip using this forum to make themselves seem more relevant than they are. Even the most sincere comments are usually from only one perspective, so matching the advice received to the personal objective is the only way that this is meaningful.
  4. Follow-up: What are next steps? – The dialog is not over when the time expires on the chat. Continuing that discussion by phone or by handshake makes it personal and lasting. Following the Twitter accounts of those you trust and engaging them one-on-one takes it to the next level. Remembering to say “Thank You” is not just a nice thing to do, it defines your online persona to others. Finally, don’t forget to pay it forward… the most valuable advice to new job seekers is from those who just concluded a successful job search.

There is more to come. This topic was prompted by decisions arising from the other side of the chat wall: “Is it worthwhile to sponsor or moderate a job search chat?”

Image credit: Blue Bird on Keyboard by bloomua / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Oct 30

Fine Tuning Business Ethics

A popular concept in science fiction is to consider a parallel universe where cultural norms are reversed. There are an infinite number of possible situations that would make travel to one of these dimensions enlightening or humorous… or both. Daily life in our universe is never seen to be out of the ordinary because we follow those who have determined exactly what ordinary should be. What if they are wrong? I doubt that there were fewer vices to tempt virtuous people in Socrates’ day, but he didn’t have the technology at his disposal to dispense disarray faster and further. It is easy for today’s philosophers, religious leaders, and personal coaches to urge people to “be worthy of commendation of all good people” but even the definition of “worthy” and “good” can’t be examined too hard or it gets cloudy.

Banding groups of these people seeking virtue into a company can result in the organization being commended or criticized depending on the ethical norms of the people impacted. What is missing is a common definition on which to base these viewpoints. In 2008, Remi Trudel and June Cotte published a paper quoted in the Wall Street Journal based on their research on perceptions of ethics and its value. “Does Being Ethical Pay?” had to begin with three major assumptions in order for their experiment to work. First, a company needed to have a progressive commitment to diversity in hiring and consumer safety. Second, it needed to have progressive environmental technology practices. The last assumption was that it must have a commitment to human rights, such as avoiding poor working conditions in foreign factories. There is little wonder in the fact that the Bangladesh factory collapse a few months ago was seen as the result of an unethical business practice. The findings in this novel experiment was that consumers are willing to reward a company for perceived ethical products and punish those that are seen to be producing unethically.  

Segmenting the target audience can help to alter the message based on perceived ethical norms. Organic foods appeal to one market segment, but splashing the word “organic” without some point of reference can be misleading. Is it unethical to use that term if it does not meet the strict California standards for something to be called organic? It is also true that standards are still evolving with no natural rhythm to control excesses. The evils of institutional slavery progressed to its abolition, then to race relations management to heal the divide, then on to promotion of diversity as an ethical best choice. A pendulum that swings too far will normalize itself by swinging back until society as a whole accepts the new norm. Sometimes the normalizing factors will be at the extreme ends of the ethical spectrum, but it is rare for the exception to become the norm for very long without undue political pressure to force the issue.

A search for some kind of ethical absolutism can creep into the group thinking and start a bandwagon of “not exactly wrong” but “not quite right” reactions. For example, pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars on research into compounds that never make it to market. When a successful product has to be priced at a point to maximize overall good, is it wrong when some people find out that they can’t afford vital medicines? The general consensus is that this is wrong. Is it wrong for such a company to seek profits to grow the business and expand the product line for the general good? Most would agree that the pipeline of new medicines would dwindle down to a trickle if companies were punished for being profitable. Finding that line of demarcation between right and wrong… ethical or unethical… is a fluid boundary that can fluctuate according to current circumstances.

It will always be difficult to set expectations on the deliverables of a company unless there is good intelligence on the wants and needs of the general public. Leaders who keep an ear to the ethical chatter of their environment will be able to find the right mix for the time and be successful.

Image credit: alexh / 123RF Stock Photo

 

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